“Because we have to chase him. Because he's the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now, so we'll hunt him. Because he can take it, because he's not a hero. He's a silent guardian, a watchful protector, a Dark Knight.”
From “The Dark Knight”
Maybe you’re wondering what this confusing yet oddly memorable quote from the Dark Knight has to do with Board Development for nonprofits. Actually a lot. When you set aside all the hero and chase stuff and focus on the idea of needing vs. deserving, it’s quite simple and relevant… Just like Gotham City in 2008, too often charities start with the board of directors they need at that moment. Yet, they now find themselves without the strong and effective one their admirable work deserves.
I was reminded of this recently when I was working with several new charities on maximizing the effectiveness of their board. All were in the startup to growth phase and speaking with them, I identified three consistent trends:
These characteristics for new boards may be all too familiar to you. To make matters more difficult, founders of these organizations are often reluctant to ask these new members to step up or step off. This is understandable since often these members are part of their inner circle.
Let’s face it – starting a nonprofit is hard enough. It requires extraordinary commitment, passion and perhaps above all, perseverance (popularly known as Grit). So, don’t go it alone. Here are three suggestions to organizations that find themselves in this place:
If you build it, they will come...We’ve gone from Batman to Field of Dreams! If you need some help on this, feel free to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org or 917-733-8569.
I was recently coaching a new and very enthusiastic client that literally received her 501(c)(3) designation the day before our meeting. I was also excited that she had just received her first donation as well - off to the races! She had gathered lots of research, had a multitude of tasks and she was ready to dive into all of them.
As has become customary for me, I asked if she had a budget and could she tell me about the board of directors she had assembled. The room got noticeably quieter. I hadn’t asked her to shame or embarrass her but it was clear that she hadn’t quite gotten to those. I suggested that before anything else she focus on a Budget and her Board. I then joked that I wished I had a third B so I could suggest focusing on The Three B’s. Without missing a beat, she suggested Branding! Loved it!
I’m guessing a few of you - or even many of you - may argue in favor of other areas besides Branding. You may even question my other B’s. But in a world where simplicity can help, putting ideas and activity into short and memorable arrangements can help. So perhaps you’ll find thinking of The Three B’s helpful in your work whether it’s launching and building a nonprofit or other businesses - here’s a bit more on all of them:
Hope you found these quick tips helpful. If you need help building your Brand, Budget and Board, I’m happy to help. You can reach me by phone at 917-733-8569 or my email email@example.com
My life as a stockbroker back in the 90s provided me with some of the best training ever. One of the most important lessons came early on as I was struggling to build my book of business. My job was simple: cold-call 300 prospective clients a day, grab their attention in 10 seconds or less, make a pitch, and CLOSE THE SALE. Fortunately, that industry has evolved to cultivating relationships and understanding a client’s needs. There are in fact, some parallels to what we do in the charitable sector however we use kinder, gentler terms like outreach, engagement, presentation and securing the commitment.
Anyway, after three months and a degree of success, my sales manager asked me to do a presentation to the other trainees about what I did every day. I was surprised as I didn't think I was particularly good at the job. I didn't fit the description of that mythical figure, the "born salesman." When I looked around the room, I saw infinitely better salespeople: smooth talkers, closers and pros - some of them were so good that I was ready to buy from them!
I asked my manager why he wanted me to give that kind of talk. I just did the same thing every day: I dialed the phone, tried my best to get someone on the line who would listen (preferably a decision maker), talked about a mutual fund I thought was cool and asked them to buy it over and over until they bought it - or hung up on me. He said "Exactly! You're Boring! That's the key to success in this industry."
As fundraisers, considering the myriad of ways we can distract ourselves from the core part of our job, I’m thinking we could all use a bit more "Boring" in our lives. As I sit down at my desk each morning, I’m flooded with opportunities to NOT find new prospects and donors to talk to: podcasts, trainings, meetings, webinars and the list goes on and on. Boring works - and I'll dare to say that it can even trump inbred talent and all of the aforementioned training tools - when applied consistently. Here's why
boring worked then and still does:
I had a plan to follow: I started my career at Smith Barney, a big "white shoe" firm. They crunched the numbers to be sure the right person was taking up a sales desk. They knew what it took to be successful after years of experience and calculations. It was simple - if you made 300 calls and presented to at least 10 prospects, you'd open one account. You just needed to do that X number of times to get your desired number of clients.
I was passionate about my products: I opened all my accounts with a mutual fund that leveraged the massive consolidation that, at the time, was going on in the banking industry. I did this because I understood it, found it easy to explain and could describe it in about 15 seconds. It didn't matter if I was on the phone, at the deli, the gym or wherever - I loved talking about it and did so with anyone that would listen.
I did the same thing every day! How many of us start each day with a plan? How many of us just wing it and see what happens? Unlike today where salespeople have tools to keep us on track (or create distractions depending on how you use them), there was only one approach to getting my business started: finding prospects and converting them. No facebook or email to check, no tweeting or instagramming - just talking to people about what you’re passionate about. All the time, not just on the clock.
While I recognize this approach may be nostalgic (it was the 90's - remember them?), I think much of this still applies to our work in the charitable industry. You still need a game plan for meeting new donors and that should be part of your work every day. In terms of passion, it's pretty simple - find yours! If you're working with a nonprofit that doesn't get you excited every day, there are thousands of others that would welcome your support. We work in an industry where we get to change the world - one of the best ways to do it is be wonderfully "Boring."
If you want some help figuring out to be at least a little bit boring, let’s talk! You can reach me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone at 9177-733-8569.
I recently wrote about the challenge nonprofits face around the ever growing demand for metrics. In Are Nonprofits Hitting Goals or Creating Results I highlighted the fact that today’s organizations are forced to be hyper-focused on gathering data points and meeting metrics. Beyond that, I’ve been in situations where I’ve genuinely questioned whether there is real learning going on. Is all that gathering of data the means to an end or is it really being used to increase the impact of an organization with a social mission?
When something like the above is on your mind, you become acutely aware of it. That’s what happened to me as I was working with a new client that has programs that provide a series of interventions in underserved school systems. One of their top funders, a foundation, had stipulated that not only did they want to see their donation partially matched by the board, they required reporting on the number of students participating in their programs, whether these students had attended a set number of workshops and produced a clear deliverable - a demonstration project. The end goal was that the nonprofit would be in a position to report back that both the match was raised and the agreed upon metrics had been gathered and reached.
The situation above isn’t inherently good or bad. In fact, this relationship dynamic between nonprofits and those that fund them - individuals or institutions - plays out every day. Yet, it speaks volumes. Or should I say the lack of reporting on the actual impact and results speaks volumes. I was left wondering why the foundation didn’t want to know more about the impact on the young people going through the nonprofit’s programs. Did they have a more positive attitude towards learning? Had their perspectives shifted on how they saw themselves and others? Ultimately, had their lives been changed in some way?
The challenge we face in today’s world whether we’re talking about nonprofit work, business or just about anything else is that we’re obsessed with measurement. Even worse, too often our criteria for measurement is woefully narrow or simply inadequate to gauge the success or impact of the work. We look at numbers but exclude the value of learning. We study metrics but discount the impact of our actions. Since I consider myself a realist, I realize and to a certain extent even appreciate that metrics and measurement aren’t going away. At the same time, here are a few tips for operating in our increasingly measurement happy environment.
What is your organization measuring or gathering data for that could use some alternatives to standard and narrow measures? This is a conversation worth having not just internally but with your partners - and yes, even your funders. Looking for more ideas on making your nonprofit more impactful? Let’s have a conversation. You can reach me at email@example.com or 917-733-8569.
I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the difference between Goals and Results especially as it pertains to our work in the nonprofit sector. This comes on the heels of participating in a program called Creating the Impossible (CTI) hosted by International Coach Michael Neill. The core of the program was the challenge of launching a project that had less than a 20% chance of achievement. In other words, the project wasn’t supposed to simply be a Big Goal you could conquer through pure tenacity and discipline. Rather, the idea was to create a Result - something you can actually share with the world in an impactful way. By this definition a Result could be anything from a piece of art or music to a new program by a nonprofit that alleviates poverty, homelessness or a disease.
Having served in the nonprofit industry over the past eighteen years, I’ve seen an important shift in philanthropy. Individual and institutional support has moved from giving simply “to be a good citizen or community member” to donating with the worthy intent of having an impact on a cause or issue. At the same time, both individual and institutional donors have an increasing drive for the nonprofits they support to provide “proof” that their intervention is working.
The above isn’t inherently bad or good. I understand our very human inclination towards receiving a fair value for dollars spent - whether they’re purchases of goods or services - or donations. I do believe however that in an increasingly competitive funding environment, this shift can push nonprofits towards an overemphasis on the proof while losing sight of the need for Results. Remember, Measurement does not equate to Results. To measure is simply to quantify. Results create something new in the world. That something can be a different state of being, a new direction or brand new set of possibilities. Or something that we might not even be able to identify yet. Quite simply, it’s all about Change.
But in this age of measurement, metrics and defined impact, here are some questions nonprofit leaders need to be asking themselves:
Are We Choosing Metrics Over Results? The answer is rarely as simple as a yes or no. It’s more a question to delve into whether you’re showing the symptoms. Are you and your team spending more time collecting data as opposed to looking at what the data means? Do meetings with donors put you on edge and have your team scrambling to fill in key metrics as opposed to being challenged to figure out whether the metrics have borne out the hypothesis for your intervention. These are some leading telltale signs.
Are We Learning From the Metrics? Similar in some ways to what’s discussed above is the question of whether your charity is simply collecting or learning. One step further would be using these metrics to see what’s NOT working, owning and course-correcting for it. One of the other big challenges the nonprofit industry faces is an environment that rarely supports experimentation, risk-taking, and even (OMG) occasionally failing. Metrics should be used well-beyond fulfilling reporting requirements. Used strategically, they’re a resource for identifying how we can do what we do - but better.
What’s the Right Balance for Our Organization? Please know I’m not advocating that we step back to the days of simply “doing good stuff” and nothing but touching stories to share the impact of our work. What I am taking a stand for is awareness and finding that important balance between communicating the impact of donor dollars while ensuring that your charity always has its eye on the prize - Real Results that Change Lives.
If I can help you and your organization increase your impact, please let me know. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I was recently reminiscing with a friend about a campaign we worked on back in 2006. The program was focused on getting backpacks and school supplies to New York City's homeless children. I still remember the line in our solicitation letter that said "we hope you’ll consider being a good corporate citizen and supporting our program with a sponsorship". That sponsorship world has changed dramatically since I wrote that hopeful letter.
The days of companies simply wanting to be "good corporate citizens" are long gone. They've been replaced by strategic and value oriented partnerships with charities. Today's nonprofits need to articulate what they can offer a corporate sponsor that can help them grow their business, raise their profile in their industry and community AND help them do good. Organizations that can answer these three questions are the likely winners when it comes to securing sponsors:
What is your organization's Brand and Delivery Promise? Your organization needs to say what you intend to do and what you've actually done. If there's a gap, how are you narrowing it? If your organization's mission is to reduce gang violence by 25% and you've helped reduce it by 15%, how is that other 10% going to happen? What are the alternatives if that doesn't happen the way you planned? Remember back in the early 80's when Domino's promised 30 minute pizza delivery? They backed it up with a guarantee of free pizza if they didn't deliver on that promise. While the charitable community is tackling much bigger problems than late-night munchies, we need to demonstrate the same levels of accountability.
What makes your organization unique? Chances are, there's a charitable organization that does something similar to what you do. They could be wooing your prospective sponsor as you read this (yikes!) What makes your organization utterly one-of-a-kind? Is it knowledge, research, program, staff, leadership or something else entirely? Be able to share it quickly and clearly. And...
How Can Your Nonprofit Help A Sponsor Grow Their Business? All of the above matters if and only if, you can connect your mission based work with an opportunity to help your sponsor increase their visibility, and engage customers more deeply with their brand. Take the time to understand your prospective sponsor's business objectives and create a platform that addresses them in ways they can't themselves. For example, a granola bar company can talk about and even advertise their intention to educate the next generation about healthy food choices and exercise. That message is reinforced in a truly authentic way when they sponsor a charity running program for teens with both cash and in-kind donations of their product. Partnerships where both the charity and the sponsor move closer to their mission is the ultimate goal.
These are the questions that we, as nonprofits, need to be answering to ensure the future of our work and truly value oriented sponsorships. If I can help you and your charity to connect and secure more sponsorships, let me know. You can reach me at 917-733-8569 or email@example.com.
M. Night Shyamalan's new movie “Glass” had me re-watching and re-discovering the depth of it’s prequel “Unbreakable”. One of the prevailing themes I find compelling is that of finding our place in the world. Since this isn’t a movie review and I don’t want to be a spoiler, I’ll simply share that one of the most poignant lines in the movie from one of the main characters is as follows:
“Now I know my place in the world - I’m not a mistake.”
Wouldn’t it be amazing if we all could say that for about our work? I feel incredibly grateful that these days I feel very much that way. I note this as I seem to find myself in similar conversations with nonprofit leaders around essential “out of the gate actions.” My gratitude comes from working with several of these leaders and seeing the positive impact of implementing these steps. Interestingly, these conversations often have different start points - maybe you’ve said or at least felt this way:
Any of them sound familiar? From my perspective - and having the privilege of working with newer nonprofits - these challenges reflect the growing pains that come from moving from infancy to the growth stage of a nonprofit. When I hear some or all of the above, I recommend the following:
I hope the above is helpful. At minimum, you might be enticed to watch “Glass” now that it’s on video. If I can help you and your nonprofit, please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org
I recently had a conversation with an organization that had a good laugh when I described fundraising as the positive side of a pyramid scheme. And I do believe that. In fact, in the nonprofit fundraising world, a campaign structure looks like a pyramid. Well, if I were an absolute optimist, it would be an upside-down pyramid with lots of top dollar donors and then just a few at the entry level.
But back to reality. As many know, the pyramid is built around a top gift, followed by one, two or three substantial but slightly lower (but no less significant) gifts, five to six more etc. But take it a step further and that pyramid in a more live form includes more than gifts - it includes action: Donors telling two friends about their gift, who tell two friends about their gift and so on. Wow - sounds a bit like Amway but without the paper towels, baby food etc - right?
Anyway, this approach was around and worked way before "crowdfunding" and "social media" were part of the fundraisers vernacular. With the emphasis on getting the word out on as many channels as possible, I thought it might be worth considering some of the key features of the pyramid and what makes for the strongest structure:
The Bricks: Do you truly know the donors that make up your pyramid? Who are they? Do you have some really solid bricks that create the foundation. Do you have a few more that still need some time to become a core part of the structure or even the top? Do you have an A list, a B list and a C list and a plan that consistently keeps donors and prospects moving up the ladder?
The Mortar: What's the stuff (glue, cement - choose your metaphor) that keeps it all in place? In other words, what's your short, medium and long-term plan that encourages your structure to grow in its entirety - not just the bottom foundation, the middle or even the top. All need to consistently grow and move forward.
The Builders: How happy, excited and strong are your builders? The Bricks and Mortar aren't going to get together on their own. You need a great team of builders - volunteers, of course - that are committed to seeing all this work together. Are you and your organization doing all the right things to keep your builders excited, informed and challenged? Your structure will only be as strong as your builders are committed.
Hope you had some fun looking at the positive side of a pyramid game! If you need help identifying your Bricks, Mortars and Builder, let me know. You can reach me at email@example.com.
Over the past several years, the breakthrough thinking of Dan Pallotta and his work has reached many in the nonprofit arena. His TED Talks, particularly ”The Way We Think About Charity Is Dead Wrong”, his two books “Uncharitable” and “Charity Case” and the creation of an organization advocating for this next generation approach, the Charity Defense Council are critical components in changing the way the nonprofit industry is viewed.
In his first book, he traces the origins of nonprofits dating back to the Puritans; Pallotta identifies charity as a remedy for the wealth created in the history of our nation. I won’t do a book report summarizing the books. They’re hard to find at bookstores but easily accessible on kindle, nook or play books for the e-reader of your choice.
He was of course, highlighting the point that our culture believes nonprofits should operate under a set of rules distinct and disadvantaged from the for-profit arena. The biggies include the suggestion that nonprofits should not invest heavily in infrastructure (a.k.a. the Future). They shouldn’t have the option of spending money on unnecessary expenses such as competitive salaries for staff or senior leadership. Finally, they should be operated on a shoestring budget. In other words, try to solve huge societal budgets with tiny dollars. A perfect example: we're thrilled to get free advertising at 4:00 AM rather than spend to reach audiences when engagement is high.
I agree with his thinking and advocate for it on any occasion I can. Hopefully the newly launched Charity Defense Council (CDC) will make inroads into this seismic shift in thinking. We can't solve big problems with small-thinking solutions. To learn more about the CDC, visit their website www.charitydefensecouncil.org Sign up. Get involved.
Beyond spending; however, a significant gap exists when comparing nonprofits and corporations. The biggest is how they operate day to day. Having spent nearly two decades in the sector, I'm convinced the charities suffer from another challenge:
Attitude. A lack of a true sales/marketing ATTITUDE.
I’ve worked directly for a range of charitable organizations, consulted and coached with many more. As such, I believe I’ve experienced a good sampling. While many excel at their mission, most (not all!) are quite content to be approached, rather than approaching. Mail goes out and emails are sent. Proposals are submitted along with responses to RFPs. Follow up calls are made in accordance with the exacting rules set out by the foundations (translation: don’t call us - we’ll call you!)
But the heavy lifting of truly assertive - OK, plain old aggressive - outreach is rarely on the checklist. I’m not suggesting that organizations that don’t aggressively prospect have a bad attitude. However, the prevailing thought process is still that charitable organizations don't do aggressive things like cold call, prospect, present, gain, commitment and yes, CLOSE. The simple truth is that if you're trying to build, grow and achieve your impact, this is a big part of the game. Further, no matter how strong your Board of Directors may be, can you ever have too many qualify prospects?
Much as Pallotta is advocating for change in the way dollars are spent, I advocate for change in the way time is spent. Whether we like it or not, the charitable sector is a competitive one. Organizations compete for donor attention whether they're individuals, corporations or foundations. While posts, Facebook likes and other vehicles pull in attention, the surest way to get attention is to grab it! And that's my call. If you're not grabbing for the attention of individual, corporate and institutional donors, one of your peers or competitors is.
Time to hit the phones - and no time like the present. And if you’re having trouble getting started, make my number the first you call: 917-733-8569... I’m happy to help!
I consider myself fortunate to get to work with some extraordinary individuals for my coaching and consulting practice. They all work for very different nonprofits in terms of mission, size, scale. I also work with a range of individuals at all levels of leadership – managers, directors and yes, a few Executive Directors. I was recently thinking how different yet accomplished they all are and how they all have fantastic and diversified traits.
As a fun exercise, I started to jot down five things I admired most about each one of them and in no time at all, I had an impressive list of leadership traits I believe any one of us would want to cultivate. Naturally traits like commitment, integrity and authenticity came up. Chances are you’ve read or heard about the value of traits like those and other similar ones. I thought it could be more interesting to share some of the less obvious ones. I’ve created some titles for them and shared the Top 5 Below. I can’t guarantee you haven’t thought of these but see which of these might fit you and your style….
Forever Futurist: I know there are a few leadership books out there that identify people as Futurists. Surprise! This is someone who is strategic and always thinking about the future. I happen to have one client who is always dazzling me with her incredibly sunny vision of the future and what it looks like for her organization and their ability to fulfill their mission. She’s an eternal optimist and I see how it helps her and imbues her with an ongoing passion. This one might be a touch controversial however as we do need to live in the present. But it seems to work for her! What do you think?
Mistake Lover: One of the nonprofit leaders I work with absolutely thrives on mistakes and is fearless about making them. By the way, I’m not talking about game-changing, money-losing out of scale mistakes. I’m talking about learn as you go, learn by doing, challenge myself and figure it out mistakes. And from the ongoing growth of his organization, he doesn’t just make mistakes, he learns from them. How about you? Are you making mistakes and learning from them?
Breaker of the Mold: We do it this way because that’s the way we’ve always done it. This is, without a doubt, one of the most frustrating things I’ve heard on numerous occasions (and with numerous organizations) in my 18 plus years of working at nonprofits and now coaching and consulting with them. I love the fact that I’m working with a leader right now who is literally breaking the mold that’s worked for him since starting his organization. He’s moving from a for-profit entity that was chugging along to a hybrid model and he’s absolutely fearless about it. And all in service of meeting his mission.
A Teacher and A Student: Some of us are great mentors, coaches. Some of us are terrific at learning new things and picking them up on the fly. But how many of us can say we are teaching and learning every day. Actually, several of the nonprofit leaders I work with make it a point to say that they are committed to teaching and learning every day. Sounds like a recipe for success.
Playbook Burner: Interestingly, several of these leaders have had a great deal of success at other nonprofits before landing in their new spot. What I was happy to hear is that while no, none of them burned their playbook (a common metaphor for trying to replicate success the way it was experienced elsewhere) they knew when to use it and when to leave it behind. As you may know, it’s not uncommon to hear about fundraisers or senior executives describing the “way we did it at XYZ” as the way we’ll do it here. These leaders know how to learn from past successes but are still adaptable to their present situation.
Hopefully these got you thinking – please feel free to share any other somewhat less obvious leadership traits we can shoot for..
By the way, if you like what you read, please subscribe below. Also, I’ll admit I’m just learning the joys of twitter – or not – but you can now follow me at @NowNonprofit (and you can feel free to give me any tips of the trade if you’ve got them..).
Robert Grabel is the President of Nonprofit Now! You can find his posts here and at www.robertgrabel.com
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